Sharing Jesus with the Disinherited
She’s a mother of three, director of two companies, board member of Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS), a cell group leader and a triathlete. Yet, she makes time to head into Changi Prison weekly to reach out to inmates and follows up with ex-offenders upon their release. What keeps Lorinne Kon, 53, going? We speak with her to find out more.
- How long have you been serving with PFS? In what capacity?
Together with a team, I facilitate weekly sessions for inmates in PFS’ Christian Intensive Religious Counselling Programme. I also write letters as a way of affirming and encouraging them. Upon their release, I journey with these brothers with whom a connection has been made, often tapping on and working closely with PFS and my church community. At the same time, I serve as a board member and chair the Nominating Committee in PFS.
- We understand that it was at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, that you felt prompted to serve society’s oppressed and marginalised. What did you hear or witness that moved you?
I had been a believer for two decades when I entered Seminary. It was a mid-career decision. I had a simple desire: to know God’s heart through undistracted study of His Word. From the word go, God began revealing Scripture, akin to a fluorescent pen moving across biblical texts, that spoke about how the oppressed and marginalised occupied a special place in His heart. He also spoke through books like Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited”, Ron Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship”.
By God’s design, I became close friends with a single black mother who was dyslexic and whose bank account was often in deficit. I helped edit her papers, babysat her children, did grocery runs and had countless conversations with her. On weekends, I tagged along as she walked the alleys in Pasadena chatting with and blessing homeless musicians with friendship and the little money she had.
I was blown away. This was Jesus at work in a modern day, specific cultural context. At the same time, these poor were Jesus in “disguise” (Matt. 25:40). It was a life transforming two years. Authentic Christian discipleship must serve society’s marginalised and oppressed. It is every disciple’s visible expression of our Father’s heart of love.
- What is a usual day heading into prison like? How do you schedule it into your work, church and family life?
The day begins 5am on Thursdays. I spend time in prayer, prepare breakfast, wake my three school-going children up, and drive them to school. On the way to Changi Prison, I pray.
A typical session begins at 9am. After being greeted by broad smiles and firm handshakes, the inmates lead us in worship. Then they share testimonies of thanksgiving and challenges faced. A counsellor teaches the day’s assigned lesson, we break up into smaller groups facilitated by a counsellor, and finally close with prayer. We finish at 11.30am.
Every week, I set aside one eight-hour work day for the in-prison programme. The time serving released ex-offenders is less scheduled and requires niftier juggling.
Overall, it’s a smooth balancing act. I’m blessed that my work offers much flexibility. I also always consult and seek my family’s approval so they don’t feel side-lined. In church, my husband and I lead a cell group, and I also mentor married couples and young adults. My church family and pastors know my commitment to prison ministry. There’s actually a lot of synergy and support as we are helping each other fulfil God’s mandate for us in the world.
- Please share a couple of memorable moments from the years of serving with prison ministry?
Every time God breaks through is memorable. R was a quiet inmate with a speech impediment. He could never bring himself to stand up in front of others to speak. Once, he agreed to worship through a song he had penned. It moved us to tears. Unbeknown to us, God was restoring him. Weeks later, at our small group, he said he was going to confess a shameful thing he had done which had burdened him for decades. He broke down and sobbed through his sharing. He said later that he felt chains falling off all around him. He was set free!
- What keeps you going?
Keeping a clear sense that this work is at the very heart of God. And if we abide in Him, and He in us, then His heart work must be ours too. And if it is His work, He will enable and empower us. So we work from a place of shalom and towards a perfect vision of shalom.
Another is to see the image of God in every one of these brothers and sisters. They are fearfully and wonderfully made; personally handcrafted to conform to His image. God makes no mistakes. So I press on.
- Is there a common misconception about inmates, ex-offenders or prison ministry that you may like to debunk?
There remains an underlying sentiment that the inmates and ex-offenders have harmed our society, done wrong to their families, are intractable and recalcitrant, and so deserve their lot in life. As a result, there’s still hesitancy to participate in prison ministry or when faced with limited resources, people would prefer to first offer it elsewhere.
The truth is if I were dealt a similar starting point in life as these inmates, I would likely walk the same destructive path. When we circle back to their starting points, we can better understand why they made those choices. We have empathy, hope, and work to do; working with inmates, their families, stakeholders, and community partners to level playing fields at the start and close gaps in their race of life.